Everton's great escapes, Carlos Tevez's rescue act and the Premier League's best final-day relegation battles
Everton, Leicester or Leeds, then? Only one of those clubs will be playing Premier League football next season, and fans of all three will be put through the wringer on Sunday, as this season’s relegation battle draws to a dramatic conclusion.
As things stand, Everton are the team with their fate in their own hands. Beat Bournemouth at Goodison Park and the Toffees are safe. Fail to do so, and either Leicester, who host West Ham, or Leeds, who face Tottenham at Elland Road, will have the chance to take advantage.
It promises to be a thrilling, tension-filled afternoon, the kind we have seen before many times in Premier League history. Here, GOAL takes a look at some of the most memorable final-day relegation battles down the years…
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1993 - Oldham epic
It feels incredible to think, given where they are now in the National League, that Oldham were founder members of the Premier League back in 1992. And Joe Royle’s side actually secured a second top-flight season too, staying up courtesy of a crazy 4-3 win over Southampton at Boundary Park on the final day of the inaugural campaign.
Oldham had actually needed to win each of their final three matches, including games against Liverpool and title-chasing Aston Villa, to secure survival. They did so, ensuring that Crystal Palace, who lost at Arsenal on the final day, were relegated instead.
1994 - Everton's Great Escape
He only scored three goals for Everton, but Barry Horne will forever have a place in Goodison Park history. So too, will Graham Stuart, whose two goals either side of Horne’s 35-yard screamer, secured the Toffees’ Premier League survival on one of the most nervous final days in English football history.
Everton needed to beat Wimbledon at Goodison to have any chance of survival, on a day when no fewer than four teams were in danger. When the Blues fell 2-0 down in the first half, the game looked up.
But Stuart converted a controversial penalty before Horne unleashed his thunderbolt to level the scores. Even then, Everton were heading down until Wimbledon goalkeeper Hans Segers dived over a low Stuart strike, nine minutes from time, to seal their survival.
Down instead went Sheffield United, who at one point in the day had been as high as 15th in the table but who fell to a last-minute defeat at Chelsea. It would 12 years before the Blades would return.
1997 - Juninho's tears
What a strange old season Middlesbrough had in 1996-97. They reached both the League Cup and FA Cup finals, delighted neutrals with the likes of Juninho, Emerson and Fabrizio Ravanelli, and yet found themselves relegated on the final day of the season.
The iconic image was of Brazil playmaker Juninho, crying on the turf at Elland Road after a final-day in which Boro’s draw with Leeds, coupled with Coventry’s surprise win at Tottenham, had sent the Teesiders down.
The die was really cast, though, back in December, when Middlesbrough had failed to fulfil a league game at Blackburn, citing an outbreak of illness within the squad. The three-point deduction subsequently imposed by the Premier League cost them dear. Had they played the Blackburn game, even with a youth team, Boro would have survived by a point.
1998 - Everton's Great Escape: Part II
Goodison, no doubt, will rock on Sunday, but it will have to go some way to top the atmosphere of May 1998, when Gareth Farrelly’s finest moment in a blue shirt ensured yet another great escape on the final day.
Everton, facing Coventry, needed to better the result of Bolton, who were away at Chelsea, to stay up. Farrelly’s early goal set them on their way, and when the late Gianluca Vialli put Chelsea ahead at Stamford Bridge, all looked well.
But Nick Barmby missed a penalty at Goodison and then, to home fans’ horror, Dion Dublin squeezed in an equaliser. Had Bolton scored then, Everton were down.
They didn’t, despite Chelsea fans ironically cheering them on. Jody Morris killed the game in stoppage time at the Bridge, and Everton survived, by the skin of their teeth.
2000 - Wetherall wins it for Bradford
Bradford’s two-year stay in the top-flight between 1999 and 2001 would eventually become an object lesson in how to waste money in football. But Bantams fans did, at least, have this remarkable afternoon to show for their Premier League adventure.
Needing to beat Liverpool at Valley Parade, while simultaneously hoping Wimbledon did not beat Southampton, Bradford took an early lead when David Wetherall headed past Sander Westerveld.
With Wimbledon losing at The Dell, Paul Jewell’s side clung on in Yorkshire, the final whistle sparking a memorable pitch invasion and, subsequently, a shaved head for Sky Sports pundit Rodney Marsh, who had given Bradford no chance of survival at the start of the season.
2003 - The Hammers fall
It is fair to wonder whether Leicester, with the calibre of players they have, would be the best team to suffer relegation from the Premier League.
West Ham 2003 would be close, mind. This was a team of Paolo Di Canio, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Glen Johnson and Jermain Defoe, but on the final day they knew that even a win away at Birmingham might not be enough to secure survival, with Bolton needing to beat Middlesbrough to send the Hammers down.
West Ham drew anyway, as it turned out, with Bolton winning 2-1 at the Reebok Stadium. By the time next season rolled around, pretty much all of West Ham’s stars had moved on.
2005 - Survival Sunday
The only time in Premier League history in which none of the relegation places had been decided before the final day of the season. Four teams went into ‘Survival Sunday’ in jeopardy, with West Brom bottom, behind Southampton, Crystal Palace and Norwich.
The Baggies had been at the foot of the table pretty much all season - they had only 10 points at Christmas - but they knew a win over Portsmouth at The Hawthorns would give them a chance of survival.
Win they did, 2-0, and on a remarkable day in which all four sides at one point occupied 17th position, defeats for Norwich at Fulham and Southampton at home to Manchester United, plus Palace’s draw at Charlton, meant Bryan Robson’s side pulled off the incredible. Their 34 points remains the lowest points tally for survival in Premier League history, though that could be surpassed on Sunday.
2007 - Tevez saves West Ham
West Ham fell on the final day in 2003, but they would survive in dramatic fashion four years later, as Carlos Tevez’s goal at Old Trafford ensured the Hammers’ safety.
The Argentine was a central figure in that year’s relegation story, his performances key as Alan Curbishley’s men beat the drop. But whether he should even have been allowed to play is debatable. West Ham had broken Premier League rules over third-party ownership to land him and compatriot Javier Mascherano, and were fined a record £5.5 million ($6.8m) for doing so.
Crucially, though, they avoided a points penalty, meaning Sheffield United, who lost at home to Wigan on the final day of the season, were relegated on goal difference. West Ham were later forced to pay the Blades compensation over the Tevez affair, settling out-of-court almost two years later.
2008 - Fantastic Fulham
Of all the jobs Roy Hodgson has done in his career, rescuing Fulham from relegation in 2008 has to rank among the best. The Cottagers looked doomed when Hodgson arrived, but won four of their last five games to beat the drop.
The last of those was a 1-0 win at Portsmouth on the final day, in which Danny Murphy’s header did the business, sending Reading down in their place. Two years later, Fulham were playing in the Europa League final and Hodgson was being pursued by Liverpool.
2011 - Wigan save themselves
Prior to last season, the last team to survive having been in the bottom three at the start of the final day was Roberto Martinez's Wigan, 12 years ago. That was also the first, and so far only, time that no fewer than five clubs found themselves in danger of relegation on the last day.
As it turned out, all of those five clubs - Blackburn, Blackpool, Birmingham, Wolves and Wigan - found themselves in and out of the drop zone at one time or another, on a dramatic afternoon. But by the end, Blackpool and Birmingham had fallen, with the rest surviving by the barest of margins.
Blackburn took care of business by beating Wolves 3-2 at Molineux, while Martinez's Wigan needed a 78th-minute header from Hugo Rodallega to see off Stoke, the result condemning Blackpool, who lost in spirited fashion at Manchester United, and Birmingham, who were beaten at Spurs, to the drop.
2012 - Bolton broken
You all remember the final day of the 2011-12 season, right? The ‘Aguerooooooooo!!!!!’ moment and all that.
But there was a sub-plot to that most dramatic afternoons, and it involved Queens Park Rangers, the victims of Manchester City’s stoppage-time smash-and-grab at the Etihad.
Mark Hughes’ side faced relegation if they lost and Bolton won away at Stoke, so when Jamie Mackie headed the Londoners in front in the second half against City, their celebrations were understandable.
With Bolton leading 2-1 at Stoke, nerves were jangling until Jonathan Walters, a former Bolton striker, scored a penalty to level that game. Suddenly, QPR were safe and Bolton were down. Who knows if that led to Rangers taking their foot off the gas in the closing stages, surrendering their lead to lose 3-2, but City certainly won’t care!
2022 - Leeds go mad
With Everton saving their skin by beating Crystal Palace in their last home game, the final day of last season was a straight fight for survival between Burnley and Leeds, with the latter emerging triumphant.
Leeds actually started the day in the bottom three, but when Raphinha fired them ahead at Brentford with a second-half penalty, the escape was well and truly on. With Burnley losing at home to Newcastle, a draw would be enough for Jesse Marsch's side, but they were wobbling when Sergi Canos levelled for Brentford, 12 minutes from time.
Then, in the final seconds, Jack Harrison fired home a 25-yarder to send the travelling Whites wild. The celebrations, with Barcelona-bound Raphinha at the heart of them, will live long in the memory.